Throughout the course of history, the Melaka River had helped to transform Melaka (or Malacca) into a strategic trading point between the East and West for nearly 700 years attracting merchants, traders and travellers passing through who made this former port their home, blending in their respective heritage and traditions with local culture. As a result, Melaka became a huge melting pot of cultures, and it is now one of the most ethnically and religiously diverse cities in South-East Asia.
Just across the Melaka River and the Stadthuys is the city’s most touristy area – Jonker Walk – where the street is lined with handicraft and antique shops, cafes and restaurants, heaving with tourist crowds on weekend nights when the area is turned into a lively and vibrant night market.
However, most tourists seldom venture out of Jonker Street to explore the side lanes and alleys of the heritage zone of the city. One particular street which might be of interest to those who are keen to know about Melaka’s unique cultural diversity is “Harmony Street”.
“Harmony Street” is actually an intersection of three roads: Jalan Tukang Besi (Blacksmith Street), Jalan Tukang Emas (Goldsmith Street) and Jalan Tokong (Temple Street). Locals also call this area “Temple Street” because of three main houses of worship stand shoulder-to-shoulder on the ground.
Harmony Street is flanked by Cheng Hoon Teng Temple, Kampung Kling Mosque and Sri Payyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple, with traditional houses and shops in between. This cluster of temples and a mosque on a short stretch of road, not only reflects the three main ethnic groups of Malaysia, but demonstrates the religious pluralism that co-existed together since the 17th century.
Cheng Hoon Teng Temple is the oldest Taoist Chinese temple in Malaysia. The temple was built in 1645 and is one of the finest traditional temples serving as the main place of worship for the Chinese Hokkien community. The temple was designed according to principles of feng shui, richly and intricately adorned with symbolic carvings, lions, golden phoenix, mythical creatures and paintings. The temple was fully restored in 2005 and won an award from UNESCO World Heritage Awards.
Situated opposite Cheng Hoon Teng Temple is Xiang Lin Si Temple, a Buddhist Temple that was built in 1985. The temple is not old and ancient, thus it does not attract many tourists. Unfortunately, it is often not listed as a tourist attraction, unlike Cheng Hoon Teng Temple. Most of the visitors who come to this temple are the local Buddhists.
Just a stone’s throw away from the Cheng Hoon Teng Temple is Kampung Kling Mosque, one of the traditional mosques in Malacca that still retains its original design. The mosque was initially a wooden structure built by Indian Muslim traders in 1748 but was rebuilt in bricks in 1872. The architecture design of Kampung Kling Mosque is unique, influenced by Sumatran, Chinese, Hindu and Malay cultures and blended with Portuguese and English décor.
The mosque is recognisable by its minaret which is designed like a Chinese pagoda. Inside the mosque, you will discover Portuguese-glazed tiles, Victorian chandeliers, Corinthian columns and a pulpit with Hindu and Chinese-style carvings.
Close to Kampung Kling Mosque is Sri Payyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple which was built in 1781 on the site of Malacca’s first *Chetti (Chitty) or Hindu Peranakan settlement. The leader of the Chetti people, Thavinayagar Chitty was given this plot of land by the Dutch colonial administration of Malacca, and he commissioned for the temple to be built and dedicated to Vinayagar or Ganesha, the elephant deity.
The architecture of the Chetti Hindu temple is distinctively different from the classic South Indian temples of Dravidian architecture with many tiers of Hindu god sculptures. The Chetti temple typically has one tier or a few tiers in which is displayed one single deity, as seen in the Sri Payyatha Vinayagar Moorthi Temple.
*not to be confused the influential Hindu money-lending community of Chettiars.
In the Melaka River Cruise website, it is mentioned that “your trip visit to Melaka is incomplete if you do not cruise”. As a local, I agree to that statement!
The Melaka River was once a stinking, murky waterway with the rear view of crumbling shop houses and dilapidated houses on stilts. Fortunately, the state government has cleaned up the river and gave the waterway a major facelift over the past ten years or so. The river is now widened, clear with a tinge of emerald green, and almost free from pollution. It was a major revitalization of the Melaka River: historical buildings and bridges were preserved, the rear side of the shop houses were painted with colourful murals, and pavements were built on the river bank for pedestrians.
Now tourists are able to enjoy a 45-minute cruise on the Melaka River. Over a stretch of 9km, the boat will pass by several landmarks:
- Stadthuys, the famous red Dutch Square with the Clock Tower and Victoria Fountain.
- Old shop houses that have been converted into guesthouses, cafes and restaurants, some of which set up tables for people to sit, relax and enjoy the river view while having a meal or drink.
- Newer buildings that have been painted with colourful murals illustrating Melaka’s cultural diversity.
- Kampung Jawa, a small residential and commercial area where descendants of the original Javanese settlers still maintain some of their traditions.
- Pirate Park, A modern funfair with a ferris wheel and swinging pirate ship.
- Kampung Morten, a traditional Malay village with some of the houses opened to the public.
There are two jetties to catch the cruise – Muara Jetty and Taman Rempah Jetty – one at each end of the route. The Muara Jetty is located close to the Maritime Museum which is recognizable from a huge replica of the Portuguese ship, Flor de la Mar whereas Taman Rempah Jetty is located upstream of the river next to the Hang Jebat Bridge.
At each end of the route, the boat turns around to complete the return journey back to the starting point. No hop-on/hop-off option is available, thus no disembarkation halfway is allowed on the cruise.
Tourists have the options to go for the day or night cruise. Many of the sights are brightly lit with colourful lights during the night cruise but the murals and other sights are much appreciated during the day cruise.
For ticket information and operating hours, please refer to the official website here.
Here’s a snippet of the cruise at night:
*The Melaka River Night Cruise was complimentary from Gaya Travel Magazine as part of the hosted stay at The Settlement Hotel. All opinions expressed in this post are my own.
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